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Hebrew Poets in Old Spain

- Abstract

The 10th century of the Common Era was not an outwardly dramatic one in the annals of Judaism. Momentous events did not take place in it; new spiritual movements did not arise; few significant additions were made to the Jewish canon. The long burst of religious and literary creativity that produced the Mishnah, the Talmud, and the main corpus of the Midrash had ended several hundred years earlier with the emergence of rabbinic Judaism (now fighting off a challenge from anti-rabbinic Karaites) as a fully matured form of life. In Christian Europe, Jews had learned to accommodate themselves to a second-class status not yet degraded by severe persecution. In the Islamic realm of Spain, North Africa, and the Middle East, in which the great bulk of world Jewry was concentrated, conditions were even better. It was, by and large, a period of consolidation of past achievements.

And yet this same 10th century, it can be maintained, represents a pivotal point in Jewish history, one in which, as manifested in the first stirrings of medieval Jewish philosophy and medieval Hebrew poetry, the foundation was laid for a crucial strategic choice: to emulate and compete with the Muslim and Christian worlds at the highest intellectual and literary levels.

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